Christianity 201

June 2, 2022

The People We Christians Have the Hardest Time Loving

Longtime regular Thursday devotional columnist Clarke Dixon has been granted a sabbatical by his church this summer. We look forward to his return in September.

Thinking Through John 13:34-35

by Clarke Dixon

There is a group of people that throughout history Christians have had great difficulty loving. We Christians have shunned them, demonized them, jailed them, and have even put them to death. In our day common notions of decency do not keep us from being on the attack, in books and over the internet, through social media, in blogs, podcasts, and in chat forums.

What is that one group? It is the group Jesus speaks about in John 13:34,35:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:34-35 (NLT)

The group we Christians have the hardest time loving? Other Christians.

We have a long history of not treating Christians who think differently from us well. We have hated, feared, mistreated, maligned, and tried to destroy one another.

Loving one another is super-important!

Jesus gave the disciples a kind of “pep talk” at the Last Supper. Jesus had spent three years with his disciples and was now preparing them to be a Jesus following community without him, at least without him in the way they had become accustomed to. First thing out of the gate? Love each other!

Why is loving one another so important?

If we can’t love one another, then how can we expect people to take seriously our good news message of love? Jesus said love for each other would prove that the disciples really were his followers. It is interesting that though Jesus taught and modeled love for all people, including those on the fringes of society, and even including one’s enemies, it is love for one another that is evidence of being a Jesus follower.

A watching world will not be impressed by our lack of love for each other. We Christians can do all kinds of loving things in the world and for the world, but when we don’t love one another, our message that God’s love changes everything, is lost.

What does loving one another look like in our day?

There is the idea that if you love someone you will rescue them from their wrong thinking. Loving one another therefore means fixing other Christians, pointing out their errors.

There are two problems with this.

First, Christians are not cars that can simply be fixed. They are people, with history, experiences, and reasons why they think the way they do.

Second, the Bible is not like the Haynes repair manual I have for my motorcycle, with step-by-step instructions and photographs to make everything as clear as possible. The Bible is brilliant, but convoluted. The Bible is sometimes hard to understand, and it is sometimes easy to misunderstand.

There is a better path forward than trying to fix one another.

Loving one another means having conversations with one another.

Conversation means talking with and to one another rafter than talking about one another. In our day there is so much talking about one another in books, on social media, podcasts, blogs, and perhaps worst of all, online comments.

Conversation means listening as well as speaking. Listening is an important part of love. We each have our blind spots that others may be able to speak to. We each believe things and hold to things that may cause harm if we are not aware. Blind spots are nasty that way.

Conversation means seeking truth together. Author Soong-Chan Rah has written an article about the difference between truth possessed and truth pursued. Truth possessed can be summed up as “I know the truth and everyone should listen to me.” Truth pursued can be summed up as “there is such a thing as truth and let’s work together on finding it.”

Loving one another means learning the skill of disagreeing with one another without dismissing or demonizing one another.

It means learning to disagree with others while honouring them for doing their best to honor God. Those who think differently than we do may never have been exposed to reasons to think otherwise. They might be doing the best they can. Maybe the blind spot is ours and we are the ones who need to rethink things. Humble people are listeners.

Loving one another means taking a posture of gentleness toward one another.

Gentleness might be the most neglected fruit of the Spirit in our day.

If everyone around the world learned gentleness, wars would cease, and wars would cease to begin. Imagine too, if people would be gentle with themselves. Therapists may find they have more free time.

We can not, of course, make that happen, but we can model gentleness in our own lives, in the life of our our own church family, and in our own family of churches.

You may think differently about many issues and theological ideas than I do. I will be gentle with you. Will you be gentle with me?

But isn’t diversity of thinking among Christians a problem? Don’t we need to get everyone on the same page?

I have heard it said that we have a diversity problem in our day in the convention of churches within which I serve. It has been said that our tent is too big as a Baptist Convention.

I don’t think we have a diversity problem. We have a diversity opportunity.

We have the opportunity to demonstrate to a polarized world, how to live in a polarized world. It is through loving one another. It is through conversation, speaking and listening, talking with and to rather than about, disagreeing without dismissing or demonizing, and through being gentle.

When we allow our differences to become reasons for erecting walls and starting wars we are reflecting the world’s ways, not the way of Jesus.

We Christians have had a hard time loving one another. Jesus said we must do it. So let’s do it.

 

April 1, 2022

Christianity 201 12th Birthday | The Fruit of Wisdom

It’s Our Birthday!

I never expected when I started this that we would still be posting devotionals every afternoon at around 5:30 Eastern Time, seven days a week, 12 months of the year. Faithfulness to this and stewardship of the site has meant things like arranging for a series of things to be posted when we would be on holidays, and has meant building margin into my schedule for days when I knew that the devotional could have easily been crowded out by other activities. Some days, like yesterday, the WordPress “publish” button doesn’t get pushed until it’s already 5:30 PM.

It’s also been a matter of keeping some balance, both in the type of writers we feature (their doctrine, denomination) and the subject matters. I know for example that not everyone is married with children, but the scripture teaching on marriage and parenting can have valuable broader application for all of us. (Parenting being obvious, as God, our Father, parents us.)

Then there are the quotations. You can find collections online for hundreds of Christian authors, but I’ve been selective here in choosing a few key authors that I felt led to present, and also a certain type of quotation from each of them that befits the readership here.

I could not celebrate twelve years without thanking Clarke Dixon for his weekly contribution every Thursday which is always a perfect fit. Clarke and I got to spend an hour together yesterday for the first time in ages, and I do appreciate his friendship. I wanted to list some of the other frequently recurring writers here, but I knew that I would leave someone out. However I want to mention Kevin Rogers who has been featured here for a long time, and Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who, while I don’t get to read Daily Encouragement as often as I once did, have always been a source of inspiration and … encouragement!

After thinking about what we could present today, it occurred to me that the best thing I could do is to do what we do best, so here’s today’s devotional.

The Fruit of Wisdom

NIV.James.3.17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

The list before us is, I believe, both characteristics of wisdom itself, and of those who seek and manifest wisdom in their daily living.  The first verse appeared earlier this week on my NIV Bible App, but I decided to include verse 18 in light of what follows.

The first thing I noticed was how certain characteristics here overlap the fruit of the spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. When I read “submissive” it reminded me of the overlap with the characteristics in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-10, where Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek.”  (Several translations have submissive as “open to reason.) The list may also remind you of the character traits in the “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s also reminiscent of the qualities Paul prays for the Colossian church to have in Colossians 1: 9-14.

But here we have not Jesus, not the Apostle Paul, but James reiterating a similar type of character checklist. (You’d almost think these personal qualities were important or something!) But James is speaking with respect to wisdom and this is an important distinction.

We often conflate wisdom with knowledge. I have to admit this is a real challenge for me personally. I gravitate to teachers whose sermons contain a lot of information. I don’t necessarily retain it all, but I’m challenged by it, especially in the context of the conclusions they reach at the end of their teaching. I love bullet points, and alliterative outlines, and infographics, and those little laminated pamphlets published by Rose Publishing which reduce major topics in Christian history and doctrine to their essential points.

Because of this, when we started Christianity 201, I tended to eschew devotionals which relied heavily on stores about a little boy and his dog, a person looking for a parking spot, a disobedient child, a rainbow appearing after a rainstorm. You get the idea. Privately, I tended to avoid sermons by preachers who feel the need to open with a personal anecdote from the previous week; I like the ones who just say, “Take your Bible and turn to the Book of  _________ …” and then start teaching.

But we don’t necessarily Jesus giving a treatise on advanced doctrinal concepts. There’s nothing close to an outline in systematic theology. Instead, we see, as Clarke reminded us yesterday, stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son (or two lost sons). And the lost son story in particular is beyond human imagination in the different ways we can learn from it.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t give us summary teachings on his theological outlook, as much as he invites us to surmise his theology from the illustrations. He invites us to work it out. (Perhaps with fear and trembling?)

And so, to go back to James’ epistle, while knowledge can be amassed and stored and retrieved as needed, true wisdom is going to produce change in us. It’s going to bring about transformation. To repeat one more time, information (knowledge) is not wisdom.

When we seek spiritual wisdom, what James calls “the wisdom from above” we are asking God to shape us, form us, change us.

… For those of you who’ve been on this ride for a longer time, I hope the twelve years of Christianity 201 has blessed you, and tomorrow we’ll be back with more.

 

February 8, 2022

Making a Spiritual Checklist, and Checking it Twice

We’re breaking the six-month rule to share an extra devotion with you from our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who faithfully write devotions at DailyEncouragement.net from their beautiful home in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania where, alongside editing and preparing weekday devotions like this one, they are in full time workplace chaplaincy ministry.

Click the header below to read this where it originated and you might find yourself clicking “previous message” or “next message” to read more!

Taking Spiritual Inventory

Message summary: Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

“But let a man examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28a). “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Randy is an inventory control specialist we see at a company that is a wholesale distributor of car wash supplies. The other day I was inquiring about his job and he told me, “I just love inventory”. Now in this day with so much laxness in regard to a solid work ethic his enthusiastic assessment of his job is heartening.

An inventory control specialist tracks inventory and stock changes. Responsibilities include overseeing inventory control, managing deliveries, inspecting inventory, maintaining inventory records, and ordering products. For a well run business it is an essential and very important job. But it’s a good thing that God made people with different gifts and interests because I can’t see myself saying, “I just love inventory”!

But Randy’s comment also prompted me to consider the vital importance of taking personal inventory of our own lives. That’s not something we necessarily enjoy, but it is beneficial since it shines the light on what really matters and that which we need to lay aside and the sin that might easily entangles that keeps us from running with endurance the race that is set before us. (See Hebrews 12)

In taking personal inventory we must reflect inwardly and take stock of our lives. Personal inventory can apply to our health, finances, family, goals and many other areas of life. But today let us consider a spiritual inventory, a self examination of the most important aspect of who we are.

“But let a man examine himself.” Today’s first Scripture verse is in the context of partaking of Communion at the Lord’s Table. Before one eats and drinks of the emblems representing the broken Body and shed blood of Christ he is instructed to “examine himself”. Of utmost importance in this personal spiritual exam is the answer to these foundational questions:

* “Do I have saving faith in Christ?” (Romans 10:8,9).
* “Do I have unconfessed sin in my heart?” (1 John 1:9).

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” In the second text Paul uses two words (“examine” and “test”) to emphasize his point. “Examine” is the Greek “peirazo” which conveys the sense “to scrutinize”. “Test” (“prove” KJV) is the Greek “dokimazo” which has the sense of discernment.  It implies the expectation of approval and is thus a very positive function. We need to regularly (I believe daily) examine and test our spiritual walk. Let’s confess sin, express faith, and practice obedience daily.

This vitally important exam asks this question, “to see whether you are in the faith”. Then there’s a sobering follow-up question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

In his article “The Place Of Self-examination” Bible teacher S. Lewis Johnson comments concerning this verse:

“There are literally millions of professing Christians who need to pay attention to this statement of the apostle. They have entered into a shallow commitment to Christianity, they’ve joined the church, they’ve been baptized or they’ve done other things that might make them think that they are genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. They’ve been encouraged to think that, by men who’ve not been careful to point out that, there is more to becoming a Christian than subscribing to a statement. They don’t hate sin. They don’t love holiness. They do not pray. They do not study the word of God. They do not walk humbly with God. These individuals, so many of them stand in the same danger in which the Corinthians stood. And the apostle’s words, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves,” are valid words that each of us should ponder.”

Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

Colossians 1:10-12 provides a list of examination items for our consideration. We will phrase them as personal questions:

* Am I living in a manner worthy of the Lord?
* Am I pleasing Him in all respects?
* Am I bearing fruit in every good work?
* Am I increasing in the knowledge of God?
* Am I being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might?
* Am I attaining steadfastness and patience?
* Am I joyously giving thanks to the Father?

Daily prayer: Father, I ask myself, “Am I living in a manner worthy of Your name? Do I seek to please You rather than myself? Does the fruit of my labor reflect the Spirit of Christ living within my heart? Do I have a zeal for the things of Christ and a desire to know Him better, to reflect His character every day in my life? Am I steady or do I sputter in my Christian influence?” Father, in all these things I want to be more like Christ, consistent in the ways that bring glory to Your name and growth in my spiritual nature. I want my spiritual walk to be the most important pursuit of my life as I journey here below so that I may influence as many as possible to live for Jesus, for it is in His name that I pray. Amen.

Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)

January 7, 2022

Romans 12 as a List

Years ago I sat in a youth rally where a popular national speaker had been flown in to share his personal story and a challenge to the high school and college age students.

At one point he said, “Some say that Christianity is a list of don’ts. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. But Christianity is a list of ‘dos’ and if you do the ‘dos’ you don’t have time to do the don’ts.”

Okay. I think there might have been applause at that point. Here was Christian living in a nutshell: Stay busy and you won’t sin.

But yesterday in my reading I came across such a list of ‘dos.’ Romans 12 starts out with the familiar words,

NIV.Rom.12.1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Then in verses 3-8, there is a short teaching on spiritual gifts, the ones mentioned being prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement,  giving, leadership, and showing mercy.

He then shares an ethic of Christian living. It’s interesting that this falls right after listing spiritual gifts, just as in I Corinthians, chapter 12 (and chapter 14) deal with spiritual gifts, but the “love chapter” presents the model ethics and character of the Christ-follower.

To be fair, the special speaker of my youth might have mentioned that there are indeed some ‘don’ts’ in the Bible, and frankly, it would have also been great if he had mentioned some of the ‘dos’ instead of moving on to the next punchline.

Even in Romans 12 we have:

  • [Do not] be lacking in zeal
  • Do not curse
  • Do not be proud
  • Do not be conceited
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Do not take revenge
  • Do not be overcome by evil

but in the interest of “doing the ‘do‘s'” here is the text of the prescriptive phrases in this part of Romans 12. I’ve capitalized each one, and I’ve left the verse numbers in, but left the ellipses out to make it more readable

9b Cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
11b  Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope,
[Be] patient in affliction,
[Be] faithful in prayer.
13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
14a Bless those who persecute you
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice
Mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another.
Be willing to associate with people of low position.
17Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19b Leave room for God’s wrath
21 Overcome evil with good.

There are 18 “dos” in the section and only 7 “don’ts.” When you read the list, you can see how doing these things involves a life of sacrifice, and probably a good place to repeat the opening instruction from verse 1:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

That spirit of sacrificial living is going to be necessary to what he next says. In the first 7 verses of chapter 13, he talks about being submissive to governmental authorities. Not easy in his day. Not always easy in ours.

I’d encourage you read chapters 13-15, and to make it easy, here’s a single link to all 3 chapters. The minutes you spend reading them is more time you won’t have to “do the ‘don’ts.'”

February 22, 2021

Reaping Where You Did Not Sow

Titus 1:7

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
(NIV)

dollar signNot wanting to overstate this, but in the past year we’ve watched as people who were stewards of ministry organizations, including those responsible for the finances of those same organizations, have proved themselves to be less than good stewards of what well-meaning donors had entrusted to them. Some have shown themselves, in their other endeavors to be “pursuing dishonest gain.”

This should not be. The ESV version of today’s verse says, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.

In a world of capitalism, there is a sense in which person “A” is exploiting person “B” by way of their possession of a scarce resource or a unique talent. My plumber or electrician (both Christians who have been very fair with us over the years) have skills and abilities that I do not have and the KJV scripture reminds us that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” (NIV/NLT: deserves his/their wages/pay.)

When found out, we sometimes expect God will just step in and seize control of the situation, but sometimes he allows things to go unchecked. One of the more interesting articles here at C201 is a 2014 one called “Why Did Jesus Allow Judas to Manage the Petty Cash?” Matt Perman wrote,

Why did Jesus let Judas carry the money bag during his ministry, knowing in his omniscience that he was stealing from it (John 12:6)? One blogger humorously points out “one is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship.”

But then goes further,

…If it’s surprising that Jesus would have let Judas carry the money bag, it should be even more shocking that he let Judas be an apostle at all. For the task of going out and preaching the gospel, which Judas participated in, is even more significant than carrying the moneybag.

(Now you want to read the whole article, right?)

While we’re reminiscing about previous articles, a 2013 article from (re)Versing Verses which we called “Two Different Measures” looked at this verse:

You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 25:15 NIV

and noted:

The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him [Proverbs 11:1]. This is a matter of integrity, and often it’s so easy to gain a little here and there that we tend to do it naturally and think of it as harmless. It isn’t harmless though. It harms your integrity. The Lord frowns on it. It incurs the Lord’s wrath – For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly [Deu 25:16]. Let us learn to be honest and have integrity in small things and big things alike.

How do I know if my “gain” is “unjust”? A page at Knowing Jesus provides some scriptures to help us make the call. (They have 12 key verses, I added #3 and #7)

  1. It has come about through violence. “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” Prov. 1.19
  2. It is achieved through misrepresentation and lies. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Prov 21.6
  3. It is accomplished through trickery and deception. “The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.” Prov 11.1
  4. It exploits the poor. “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Prov 22.16
  5. It exploits done by others. “As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.” Jeremiah 17.11
  6. It involves not properly paying staff or contractors. “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages” Jeremiah 22.13 also “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord” James 5.4
  7. There are underlying, unjust motives. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Prov. 16.2

I think the word “pursues” is not to be overlooked in this phrase as well. See resources on this at OpenBible.info.

  1. It exhausts you. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. Prov. 23.4
  2. There is never contentment. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  3. It can cost you your soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8.36 also Luke 18.25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  4. It may cause you to neglect the poor. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Prov. 28.27
  5. It will divide your loyalties. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Prov 16.13
  6. Achieving it may be elusive or temporary. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12 18-20
  7. It can leave you miserable. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17

Growing up in the church founded by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, people were encouraged to invest their money, time and talents in world missions with this motto,

You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In other words, you can invest it in the Kingdom of God (“where moth and rust do not corrupt“) and where it lasts.

Someone else also shared with me that

The main thing that Bible teaching has against money is that it perishes with use.

A 2015 C201 post, “Proverbs on Poverty…and Riches” contained a number of scriptures on this (unfortunately without references) and ended with this one:

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

So while we may have determined we have not pursued dishonest gain, we need to be careful we haven’t become caught up in pursuing gain itself.

February 14, 2021

As We Search Our Hearts

Two days ago we looked at our susceptibility to sin. There are a few verses I realized could have also been included, one of which follows in the excerpt from something by Elsie Montgomery we ran in September:

…Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

I decided to continue tracing back the history of the particular scripture appearing here.

Just over a year ago, we shared a devotional from Gary Henry:

…We are hurt far more by the malignancies in our character than by the illnesses in our body. And it is the removal of these sins in the heart that God is concerned with. The Great Physician desires to restore our spiritual health and wholeness.

If we want to improve, we must be honest and open to the truth about our character right now. Not even the Great Physician can help us if we’re not willing to be examined. Trying to hide our symptoms and pretending that nothing very serious is wrong will only result in our getting worse. An accurate diagnosis will be humbling, to be sure, but we should still want to know the whole truth. David’s prayer is that of an honest man: Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23,24). We must desire to see ourselves as God sees us…

In December, 2017, Colin Sedgwick included this same verse, but looked at the life of Asa in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles and used the analogy of someone having what we call a Jekyll and Hyde character. More than anything else, God hates hypocrisy. Think of the word duplicity and the image is clear of a person who presents a double character. Colin also introduced the idea of a Asa as having an Achilles heel, a weak spot or vulnerability to certain types of sin. He wrote,

…I have to admit, that’s where his story strikes uncomfortably at my heart… Yours too, perhaps. As you search your heart and examine your life, do you see there a big, ugly “But”? Yes, you’re a genuine, sincere Christian. Yes, you want to please and serve God. Yes, you are happy to worship, pray and evangelise. But

If we fail to deal with that “but”, I’m not suggesting that we will lose our salvation. But there are, I think, two things we will lose.

First, our peace of mind. Like Paul in Romans 7:14-25 we will feel ourselves to be “wretched” because we are torn in two.

And second, we will lose our effectiveness for God. Putting it another way, our cutting edge will be blunted.

In August, 2017, I wrote a devotional based on a sermon I had recently heard, that was based on this passage:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6

I added,

…each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon

In November, 2015, Rev. Gregory Crofford raised the dramatic account of Ananias and Sapphira whose duplicity cost them both their lives. He introduced this verse to the discussion:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added

Way back in July, 2012, a writer we used several times but knew only as “Cloudwatcher” also touched on the Psalm 51 verse, but introduced this from James 3:11 as well:

Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they?

I read that verse today and marvel at the duplicity that seems to spring forth from the accounts of fallen Christian leaders; how their words and their actions did not line up. There was, as one person voiced earlier this weekend, apparently a lack of “a congruent life.”

Going back to December, 2011; we come full circle with Elsie Montgomery who noted Spurgeon brought up this scripture in the context of taking a personal spiritual inventory:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. -Proverbs 27:23

[Spurgeon] points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

That’s all for today; I hope this leaves all of us with much to consider.


For those of you who read the tags which appear after the title, this devotional is tagged with an assortment of search terms from all the devotionals used!

Looking for more content? This weekend I listened to the second part in a recent sermon series, Unleashed by Kyle Idleman based on the Book of Acts. If you’ve got time, sit back and listen to Complacent to Committed.

 

 

 

 

January 7, 2021

Before He Wants us to Do, God Wants Us to Be

NIV.James.3.17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

NIV.Phil.1.15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16a The latter do so out of love…

NIV.Rom.12.2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Today we’re paying a return visit to The Lion’s Head Café. This is an article written by the proprietor of the site, Terry Everroad. Click the header below to read it there.

How Do You Bear Fruit?

In the year of our conversion, Esa and I worked at a radio station where I was part owner and manager. She was an announcer and salesperson. The local chapter of the American Cancer Society asked if our station would help raise money in their annual fundraiser held in cities all across the state. Esa had the idea of producing a festival on the county fairgrounds with contests and games and musicians, singers and dancers. It was a huge success and we raised more money than any other chapter in the state and we lived in a town of fewer than 5,000 people. We did a really good thing for the Cancer Society and for the community.

But our motives were selfish. We wanted everyone to know what a wonderful thing we did. It was all about us. We didn’t really care much about cancer victims. We wanted public recognition. We were new in the Lord and wanted to do something good so we would be admired.

Jesus speaks many times in the Gospel of John about bearing fruit. He says, “He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me, you can do nothing (John 15).” It could be easy to think he means we should do something spiritual like exercising the gifts of the Spirit. Doing good things sounds honorable but that’s not what he’s talking about here. God’s ways are higher than ours. Many times they are exactly opposite. We often think in terms of taking action and being productive in order to please God or to be rewarded. It’s the American way. We’re number one! But we can’t buy entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Then there’s also the matter of the first becoming last.

In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord tells us not to be deceived by false prophets. He says the way to do that is by taking note of their fruit. What kind of fruit is he talking about? Is it demonstrated in a notable ministry or building a successful business or being good at making money? Not at all. The Greek word for fruit is karpos and is predominately used in the New Testament figuratively and defined as “being the physical expression of power working inwardly and invisibly; the character of the fruit being evidence of the character of the power producing it.” (Vine’s Dictionary of NT Words)

Bearing fruit is not a performance-based activity. God first wants us to be so that what we do reflects who we are, that is, His children. As Paul says in Romans 8, “we are being conformed to the image of His son.” When we are shaped into that image, what we do doesn’t really matter because whatever we do is an expression of the kingdom. We live in Jesus and he in us. We are led by the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit is a package deal: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). Being unfruitful is to lack these qualities. Instead of love, there is hate, instead of joy, sadness, instead of peace, strife, instead of longsuffering, irritation, instead of kindness, meanness, instead of goodness, vindictiveness, instead of faithfulness, carelessness, instead of gentleness, disrespect, instead of self-control, instability.

The fruit of the Spirit is a love package. You can’t have love and not have all the other qualities on the list. You can do a lot of good things, but they mean nothing if they’re not coming out of a genuine, heart-felt love for people, the good, the bad and the ugly. In the day of judgment, Jesus spoke of those who expected to inherit the kingdom of heaven, standing on their good works, which included casting out demons, prophesying and performing miracles in his name, to which he said, “I never knew you.” They missed the point. They had not done the Father’s will which is that His children love others as themselves. It’s the narrow gate (Matthew 7). It’s hard to do. It’s hard for everybody. It’s hard for us. That’s why God continually makes it an issue. It is something we grow into, a transformational process in renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).

Paul said there were those who preached the gospel out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1), and to purposely hinder his own work. But he went on to say he was delighted that Christ was preached even though it was done in pretense, not sincerely. That is a perfect illustration of how we ought to love. He exposed the false teachers without bad-mouthing them, but rejoiced that Christ was preached, that the gospel was an issue regardless of the messenger’s motivation. Jesus will judge the false prophets in the end. He wants us to identify them so we aren’t drawn into deception, yet not be condemning. The goodness of God leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We will join the Lord in judgment at the last day, but that time is not now. He came, and we are here today, to minister reconciliation to the world. We are called to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. God does the heavy lifting.

The Colossians were exhorted to be fruitful in every good work (1:10). We do good work because we’re fruitful, because we love the world the way God does. We don’t do good work in order to be fruitful. Good work is the demonstration of fruitfulness. If I give away all I have to feed the poor, it doesn’t mean a thing if love is not the motivator (1 Corinthians 13). James said our works are a product of faith, evidence of good fruit. He said that wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits….that the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17-18). We are peacemakers. It’s about the way we treat people.

At the beginning of time, when Adam and Eve fell from their first estate, they were separated from God in a way they had not been previously, and the tree of life was made inaccessible to them and, as a result, to us as well. At the end of time, in the new Jerusalem, we find the tree of life accessible to man again (Revelation 22). It bears a different fruit each month. There is a lot of conjecture about what those fruits are, but we’re also told that the leaves are for healing the nations. On any bush or tree, leaves are the initial part of the fruit-producing process. They might be like herbs with medicinal qualities. Who knows? What we do know is that they have healing properties.

Since there is no sickness and death in the new creation, those leaves could be more preventive than curative. Esa says she gets healed when she holds a baby. She doesn’t mean that the baby cures her sickness but that there’s something deep down in her soul that responds wondrously to the innocence of a newborn. The baby does nothing but be a baby, just being its pure self. It’s not conscious of sin. It’s totally dependent on its mother. In the same way, we are totally dependent on Jesus without whom we can do nothing. In the end, it’s not about fruitfulness. It’s about abiding. We don’t grow the fruit. The fruit springs forth on its own. It’s effortless, mysterious, and marvelous.

 

 

January 1, 2021

Easy Steps to Being an Unloving Person in the New Year

Nobody sets out to be an unloving person, but if you know how it’s done, then you know what to avoid, right?

I want to take a different look at I Corinthians 13, aka ‘The Love Chapter.’

I know what you’re thinking. Can’t we do something a little deeper? Or look at a passage we haven’t heard hundreds of times? Well, hear me out.

But first a diversion. Did you know the word love doesn’t appear in this chapter in the KJV? I found this out the hard way trying to demonstrate to a pastor how a Bible concordance works. (The fact that I was not a pastor and he was, yet he had never seen a concordance speaks volumes to the type of Biblical education he received; but alas, time doesn’t permit me to share that story.) Anyway, I randomly selected “Love is patient” as my demonstration point but Strong didn’t include that because the KJV uses the word charity instead. So if “love is patient, love is kind” sounds old to you, remember it’s not that old.

The chapter begins,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

So you’re thinking, if we want to know what it means to be unloving, we just take each descriptor and frame it in the negative. So, “love is patient, love is kind” becomes ‘un-love is impatient, un-love is unkind.’ (And it would get easier, since many of the traits are stated in the negative, so you would just drop the “not.”)

That would make for a simple exercise, and I was in a church study where we did that as an exercise; but keeping the above verse in mind, let’s go adjective-by-adjective but drill down deeper.

STEP ONE: The person without love would need to crave instant gratification, in other words, no room for delayed gratification. In the tech revolution of the 1950s (don’t look it up, there really wasn’t one) the talk was that in the future, everything would be yours at the push of a button; at the flick of a switch. As a more congested transport system leaves us waiting for what seems (but isn’t) forever to board a train, or for a traffic light to change; and as we desire faster download times for internet content, we reflect our hunger for getting everything NOW. Paul taught the Romans that “…endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:4)

STEP TWO: The person without love would need to have a lack of empathy. You never know kindness until you’ve been shown kindness; and you never know the absence of kindness until you’ve had to experience it, but without empathy, you can’t connect the dots between what you’ve felt and what you’re doing or saying feels like to someone else. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)

STEP THREE: This one is central. To not be the person of love Paul is describing to the Corinthians you have to be guilty of constant comparison. Some Bible expositors go so far as to speak of “the sin of comparison.” And I don’t need to give you the reference to remind us all that the 10th commandment is “do not covet which is applied equally to your neighbor’s (marital, in this case) situation, as well as your neighbor’s possessions.

STEP FOUR: Not being boastful begins by not being self promoting. This is critical in our present times, because social media somewhat implores us to put our best face forward on social media. (And tools like Photoshop allow us to edit how that face looks!) We are now even able to quantify our popularity by counting likes or followers.  Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.” (Jeremiah 9:23)

STEP FIVE: I’ll keep this one really brief since I’ve written about passages such as Philippians 2 so many times here. You would need to have a complete absence of humility. Pride isn’t the issue here, pride is more of a manifestation (or symptom) of a larger problem. Rather, the overarching need for humility is part of a lifestyle that needs to cultivated. Jesus did not see his equality with God as something to be leveraged but chose the path of humility and the role of a servant. (My own take on Phil. 2) “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4)

Let’s look at the next verse:

It [love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

STEP SIX: The unloving person would have no problem committing defamation of character. You could be absolutely right about someone, but still dishonor them by not keeping silent. Or you could be exacting revenge against someone and seek to destroy their character for that reason. Or you may just have a callous disregard for others. Romans 12:10 reads, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” The setup for the often quoted Philippians 2 passage begins “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (The CEB offers a gender-neutral expression for brotherly love: “Love each other like the members of your family.”)

STEP SEVEN: Because the previous already covered not boasting and not being proud, when we reach not self-seeking it may seem almost redundant. Could we say the unloving person is status-seeking? Or are they all about building their own empire? I would argue that with some it’s actually lacking transparency. We could also say they have a hidden agenda. They are perceived to be outwardly doing something altruistic, but like a skillful chess player, what outwardly appears a seemingly sacrificial move is coldly calculated to be of personal benefit. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

STEP EIGHT: The unloving person would undoubtedly be prone to knee-jerk reactions. And when have we ever seen this more than in the political climate of 2020? “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19

STEP NINE: An unloving acquaintance hangs on to hurts. They’re making a list and checking it twice, and going to remember how many times you’ve stepped on their toes or damaged their feelings. Being forgetful can be a human failing. But it’s also a divine attribute. If we want to be God-like we need to learn how to forget! “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.” – Jeremiah 31:34b

The final verse of this micro-passage ends

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

STEP TEN: I wanted to combine these into a single step to bring the list to ten items. Ten items to avoid. The final one, in being an unloving person, you’d probably be seen a troublemaker. The person who delights in evil has their values turned upside-down and is glorifying wickedness instead of righteousness. Isaiah 5:20 nails this possibility: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” This verse wouldn’t be in our scriptures unless people had done this in Isaiah’s time; unless it were possible for us to be equally value-shifted.

None of these things are outside the realm of possibility. It’s easy to think of people we have known who were self-aggrandizing, deceitful, over-reactive, or just plain troublemakers. But it’s also not impossible to remember times in our own lives where we entered into those categories, or at least skated dangerously close.

In the new year, we want to be loving not unloving.

With God’s help, we can do this.



■ This isn’t the first time we’ve had a backwards approach to I Corinthians 13. Check out, from March, 2016, A Personal Character Checklist.

■ Paul does as much himself — telling us what not love looks like — in the setup to the verses we examined. From January, 2014 check out Religious Activity versus Abiding in Christ.

Remembering that the whole Love Chapter is sandwiched between two chapters discussing spiritual gifts; from the 2nd of those articles:

In certain Christian quarters, we tend to treat supernatural gifts as the gold standard of faith, but without humility or love, we come up empty; and all our co-workers, neighbors, or extended family see is a preoccupation with religious things that really don’t appeal…

December 29, 2020

Leaving Behind Shallowness, Fear, Self-Centeredness

In yesterday’s thoughts here we quoted from a source which was new to us. Daisy Logan is from London and writes devotions and book reviews at Walking With My Savior. This article appeared in August. Click the title below to read this on her site.

The Faith-Hope-Love Cure

Do you find it hard (or even impossible) to be spirit-filled when things are going terribly wrong and everything we see on television, read in books and even hear from good friends points us toward skepticism, bitterness and self-absorption?

Yes, times have changed.  We need a paradigm shift.

THE NEED FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT

All our specific struggles can be traced back to one of these:

  1. Shallowness
  2. Fear, anxiety, and shame
  3. Self-centeredness

Breaking free from the grip of these three mega-patterns involves transferring our spiritual energy away from fixing our failures and toward our divine calling and destiny: resting in the heart of God through participation in his divine life. 

The spiritual journey would be:

  1. Shallowness to living faith by a healing of our intellect 
  2. Fear, anxiety, and shame to living hope by a healing of our memory 
  3. Self-centeredness to living love by a healing of our will

So now, I am inviting you to confront your self-limiting and self-destructive patterns and contrast them to the patterns of spirit-filled people who have come to live out their faith, hope and love.

Faith by which we freely commit our entire lives to God, who invites us to believe in Him by stirring our hearts in various ways. Faith is a decision of the will to believe, real faith is not blind. Faith heals our intellect. Study Hebrews 11:1 and Ephesians 6:16.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
– Hebrews 11:1 NIV

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
 – Ephesians 6:16 ESV

Hope by which we desire and count on the blessings of God in our lives, no matter the trial of the moment. The hopeful person has an eminently positive perspective on life because we know that an all-loving and all-powerful God is by our side, and in control – if we decide to let him be God for us. Hope, heals our memory and allows us to move forward in confidence, despite our remembering our own many failings of the past, and how others have failed us in the past because we know that God is all-powerful, all-loving and will be faithful to his promises. Study Hebrews 10:23 and Romans 12:12.

We must hold tightly to the hope we say is ours. After all, we can trust the one who made the agreement with us.
– Hebrews 10:23 CEV

rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,
 – Romans 12:12 NASB

Love by which we give ourselves to God above all things and to our neighbours as ourselves. Study John 15;12-13 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Love heals our will by ordering our interests and actions toward giving ourselves to God and others, for their own sake.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
 – John 15:12,13 NIV

Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited,
does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.
Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things. – I Cor. 13 HCSB

The healing of our mind, memory and will through the Divine Cure of faith, hope and love is not magical but it is MIRACULOUS.

So, let’s our start our journey from self-help to God’s help by specifying where and how we need to let go and let GOD work in us. For the Divine Cure to take root in our hearts and in our daily lives, we have to show God that we want HIM to act.

December 14, 2020

Things to Think About

Wrapping up his letter to the Philippians, Paul ends with a verse that will be familiar to most of you:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (4:8 NLT)

Years ago, when attending a large youth event, a speaker talked about making his mind a gatekeeper. He envisioned animals passing through an “L”-shaped gate that would swing allowing some things to go one direction and others to go the other. He compared this to allowing certain thoughts to come into our minds as opposed to quickly and simply tossing others out.

I thought at the time he was referring to a particular scripture reference, but when I tried to find it I couldn’t, although the Bible has a lot to say about gatekeepers.

Frequently, the subject of our “thought life” has appeared at C201’s sister blog, Thinking Out Loud. In April of this year, with some extra time on my hands, I summarized the best elements of these into a single article.  See below for two excerpts.

For our verse today, I compared translations. Some of the Bibles listed the “things” to think about in a different order, and I took the liberty of arranging them so they would line up:

The Amplified Bible, as you might expect, takes this one step further and suggests where those “things” to think about might be defined:

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].

I wanted to include some very practical ways we can start thinking about responding to this issue. Here’s how the Thinking Out Loud article began:

Media to fill your home:

  • Bible teaching
  • Christian books
  • Christian movies
  • Christian music
  • Hearing God’s voice

This list may remind you of this verse:

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

Dealing with online addiction – the issues involved:

  • Self Control
  • Mind, Thoughts and Heart
  • Shifting Values
  • The Stewardship of Our Time
  • Misdirected Worship

It also included links to the individual articles, but here’s one in more detail:

Recipe for a healthy media diet:

  • True, Not False:”Whatever things are true”
  • Noble, Not Base: “Whatever things are noble”
  • Right, Not Wrong: “Whatever things are just”
  • Purity, Not Filth: “Whatever things are pure”
  • Beautiful, Not Ugly: “Whatever things are lovely”
  • Praise, Not Complaint: “Whatever things are of good report

…Imagine me having written all this only to discover I’ve done this before with the exact same title and a very similar Bible translation chart. Well, it’s true. I did this in June, 2014. At that time I made a few personal observations:

  1. Holiness does not get easier as you get older. Don’t believe the myth that as you age, you will automatically take on the character of the elder saints at your local church. To be very blunt, it can go either way. Age can ‘mellow’ your spiritual character, or it can ‘harden’ that character.
  2. Thinking on “these things” is a matter of effort. Even working in a ministry environment, I find that my thoughts can go off the rails several times a day or even several times an hour. It takes constant focus.
  3. Past thought life failures should not be a barometer of what to expect in the future. Each moment is a created period of accountability. You have to keep hitting the ‘reset’ button.
  4. Our lives simply run better when our thoughts are focused on the good and beautiful. We were not designed to have our mind crowded by things that are impure or dishonorable.

 

September 19, 2020

Opening the Pressure Valve on Resentment

NIV.2Tim.3.23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

This is our fourth time back with J. Mark Fox who is one of a number of writers at Christians in Context. This piece was written shortly after the world was plunged into lockdown due to coronavirus, and some of the dynamics mentioned haven’t really changed, in fact, some countries are heading back into lockdown as I type this. Click the title to read this at its site of origin.

Pressure Cookers of Resentment

Pressure Cooker
image: Wikipedia

The coronavirus has forced many of us to stay home more than we are used to, and that can lead to wonderful or not-so-terrific outcomes. People can tend to get a little touchy, slightly more irritable than normal. Reminds me of a peculiar habit camels seem to have. Read on…

William Barclay said, “There may be greater sins than touchiness, but there is none that does greater damage to the Christian church.” I found that quote as I was reading what Paul wrote 2 Timothy, instructing the young pastor that leadership requires thick skin, someone who is not easily offended. In fact, a leader is one who “patiently endures evil.” It could also be translated, “Bearing evil from others without resentment.” This is a rare quality, isn’t it? Let’s face it. There are lots of people who cannot bear anything without resentment, much less evil. They get resentful at the stoplight for staying red longer than they think is just. Look at them the wrong way and you are off their party-invitation list forever. Others will allow you a wrong look or a cross word or two, but they are adding your missteps to an invisible scale that they keep in their memory. Whoa to you when you finally tip the scale in the wrong direction.

This is illustrated in nature, I discovered, with camels. Who knew? In his book, Zoo Vet, David Taylor writes, “Camels may build up a pressure cooker of resentment toward human beings until the lid suddenly blows off and they go berserk. In Asia, when a camel driver senses trouble, he gives his coat to the animal. Rather like Japanese workers who are reported to work off frustrations by beating up models of their executives, the camel gives the garment (a fit)—jumping on it, biting it, tearing it to pieces. When the camel feels it has blown its top enough, man and animal can live together in harmony again.”

Talk about getting your hump in a wad. And, just wondering, how many coats does a camel driver have to keep on hand? The problem with that whole scenario is obvious. If Carlos the camel owner is off his game by just a little, and doesn’t correctly read the signs that Carl the Camel is subtly sending him, it may be that Carlos, not his coat, is torn to pieces. Same way with you, as you face the wrath of Ken or Kara the church members. You may never know when you say the very thing that sends them into orbit. Or out the door. They won’t even give you a chance to offer them your coat or your hat to jump up and down and spit on. They just bolt. You may hear some reasons why they exploded later, as a friend of a friend of theirs tells you what they said about you on Facebook. Or, you may never know.

Paul’s instruction to young Timothy is clear: don’t be a pressure cooker of resentment yourself. When the camels are spitting and stomping all around, you are to remain calm. You are to be quick to forgive and slow to take offense, not the other way around. That doesn’t mean a leader is as silent as a post. No, he is to be skilled in “correcting his opponents with gentleness.” This is part of the problem: leaders who are unable or unwilling to gently correct evil behavior.

There is power in the life that refuses to drink in bitterness when others attack. It is the power that Christ Himself displayed as He was mocked and beaten and spat upon and finally crucified. There is no more beautiful picture of Christ than that of suffering servant. “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so he opens not his mouth.”

Two things, then. When pressure at home builds up, go outside. Exercise! And, be very careful around your camel.


J. Mark Fox is the author of A Faithful Man and the pastor of Antioch Community Church in Elon, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmarkfox.

August 18, 2020

A Famine of God’s Word | Lordship of Christ | God Owns it All

As we did one year ago, today we are presenting a trio of shorter devotionals for you from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner). Rick’s story is one of defeating addiction and he has been a guest on The 700 Club.

Spiritual Famine

Amos 8:11 – “’Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘When I will send a famine on the land. Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.'”

As it was in Amos’ day, so it is now. The context of the eighth chapter of Amos is one of great apostasy. The Nation of Israel had substituted greed for charity. They no longer sought the welfare of others, only what they could selfishly obtain. Therefore, the Lord told them He would send a famine of God’s word upon the land. No longer would there be dream or vision to instruct the nation in their wickedness. The silence of God would be their eventual downfall.

Today, we have silenced God by replacing Him with our selfish pursuits. Far be it from us to miss a weekend at the lake rather than serving God in our local church! Or, how about that weekly prayer meeting God has been prompting us for weeks to attend? The world is sleeping in the dark as the church sleeps and relaxes in God’s light. However, there is coming a day of reckoning when God will hold us accountable for how we have used our time. Beloved, the days are evil. Let us make the most of each day by including God in our plans. For a day is coming soon when our lives will be laid bare before His throne where we will all give an account.

Jesus’ Lordship

Psalm 16:2 – “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.’”

When we come to the place of David, confessing Christ’s Lordship and really believing it, then great things begin to happen. We recognize how His righteousness is the only thing that can ever be “good” in our lives. Religion is replaced by relationship and romance toward the Lover of our souls. Like David, our hearts will rise in praise and thanksgiving when we truly recognize He is Lord and Master of our surrendered hearts.

The Savior tells us in the Gospel of Matthew that many will say “Lord, Lord” on that final day. Jesus further explains how He will disown those who have practiced lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23). Christ is not talking necessarily about just the Ten Commandments. He is speaking about a love for living the character of God which is embodied in the law. The law of liberty has set us free from the bondage of the law, beloved (James 1:25). Jesus is truly our Lord when we instinctively live His commandments. This is true freedom that demonstrates itself in love for God and mankind.

God’s Ownership

Job 41:11 – “Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.”

God Almighty, the one and true God, has never sought repayment for sending His Son the Lord Jesus Christ to die for the sin of mankind. This is what makes Him unique among all other religions. Every other belief in God, other than Christianity, demands repayment of some kind. These faiths conclude that we must be like God, so therefore we must work to attain to His character. Or, that we strive to recompense Him in some way for all of His benefits toward us.

Truly, the only thing we can give back to God is ourselves, which He already owns. One of the truest expressions of this is giving Him our time in worship. Devotion takes on many forms, but it should never be looked at as something that makes God like or love us more. It is impossible for Him to love us more than He already does, which is infinitely. All we can truly do as believers is accept His great gift and say thank you. When we expend time in this manner, we acknowledge we can do nothing further in the grand plan of redemption.

June 18, 2020

One Credible Voice

by Clarke Dixon

With so many voices claiming to sound out the truth about spiritual and religious matters, how do we ever know to whom we should listen? This has always been a good question, but is especially important in the internet age. Anyone can speak up on the internet, even me!

To make matters worse all kinds of people say all kinds of different things, even when speaking about the same things! So how do we cut through all the noise? How do we find those voices worth listening to?

Jesus said something which helps us cut through the noise:

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.

Matthew 7:15-16 (NLT)

Beware of false prophets, you will know them by their fruit.

Perhaps anytime a prophet is mentioned, we automatically think of people who predict the future. Sometimes they do, however prophets are not primarily people who predict the future, rather they are people who speak on behalf of God.

If we loosely apply “prophet” to anyone claiming to teach on spiritual truths today, do the people claiming to speak spiritual truths into our lives have any credibility? Do I have any credibility as a teacher of spiritual matters? Do I show good fruit?

What do we mean by fruit in the first place? We might be tempted to think that a religious leader has good fruit if they have a big church, or many followers. In these times pastors can be judged by how many followers they have on Twitter. I don’t have many, but then it does not help that my descriptor says something like, “you may follow me on Twitter, but I never really go far.”

Sometimes, we who speak on spiritual matters can have great leadership skills, we can help build great organizations, and have many followers. However, we can be lacking in what Jesus is referring to here as good fruit.

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the fruit Jesus mentions is a godly character. If you are asking about my character, don’t ask those who primarily see me preach, teach or visit the sick. If you want to know about my character, don’t ask my fans, ask my family.

How much do we really know about the character of the people we let speak into our hearts and minds? This is one advantage the local church has over television and internet ministries. Not only do I as a pastor get to know the people of my church, importantly, they get to know me. They know my wife and children. They know my character.

Do you know the character of those who speak into your life, especially those who would claim to speak on behalf of God?

Jesus is teaching a much more important lesson here that is easily missed when we make it all about evaluating a spiritual teacher’s credibility.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of someone who was there while Jesus was teaching what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. We heard him say “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” In other words there is something flawed about their righteousness. We heard Jesus say several times “You have heard it said, [by the scribes and Pharisees], but I say,” then go on to teach about good character. We have heard Jesus teach on how we should love like God loves, which means loving even our enemies. We have heard Jesus say “in all things do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We will soon hear Jesus teach about the importance of listening to him, that by doing so we are like builders building a house upon a rock.

One day we hear that the Romans have crucified Jesus at the instigation of the religious leaders. We remember that time Jesus said “beware of the false prophets, by their fruit you will know them.”

We look at the fruit of the religious leaders. They had an innocent man killed. All kinds of sins are evident through their actions; pride, arrogance, jealousy, and hatred. They strut around like shepherds, they look like sheep, they have been helpful to many people, but in the end we can see their true colours. They are vicious wolves.

Now we look at the fruit of Jesus. His life and teaching has already brought life to many. Now his death and resurrection will bring eternal life to so many more. The evidence is clear.

With so many voices speaking up on religious and spiritual matters today, how do we know to whom we should listen? There is one voice that cuts through, a voice we can trust, the voice of Someone with good fruit. It is the voice of Jesus. Are we listening?


Pastor Clarke Dixon is now a confirmed YouTuber, but still can’t get the thumbnail images he seeks! His wife and family (and dogs and cats) are currently riding out the pandemic in a small town east of Toronto. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. (Warning: May contain organ music. Briefly.) Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 10, 2020

A Study in Patience

Today’s devotional is unlike anything I’ve ever featured here. Usually we run between 650 and 1200 words. Occasionally shorter, and sometimes longer. But often I run into a writer I want to highlight who uses a shorter format, so I’ll combine two (or three) pieces into one.

Today we’re combining nine pieces where the author(s) have created a scripture medley on the subject of patience. The thoughts come from Glorious Ministries, a “non-profit organization located in Genesee county* and established in 2014” which states is mission as “seeking to encourage, empower, and support individuals who are striving for excellence in their walk with Christ by offering retreats, motivational classes, support groups, group therapy, a 12 step Christ-centered program, and individual counseling.” [*so either Michigan or New York State.]

The Bible is clear that it’s not about the number of words. A short, concise word “fitly spoken” can be a treasure to the right person.

The link below takes you to the site in general. To see these at source, you want to track down articles from May 31st to June 8th. Each of the nine short articles comes with graphics you can use on social media which were not included here.

Patience

But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
 – Rom.8v25 NASB

When we hope for something we are not able to see we have to be patient. Have you waited on the Lord and said “I could have had this done already, my way!” You take it back and then your way doesn’t work! Patience… wait with patience!

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
 – Rom.12v12 ESV

God is our hope and we should rejoice in Him. When we are experiencing a little turbulence in our life we should be patient and wait upon the Lord. Praying and thanking God always.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
 – I Cor.13v4 NIV

In our daily walk, no matter where the walk takes us, we are to be patient! We are to show love and kindness to everyone! We are made in God’s image and our actions should reflect such!

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
– James 5v7 NIV

Have you been patient in waiting on the Lord for answers? For the land to be fruitful? For the purpose of what is happening on going on in your life? God tells us over and over in His Word, Be patient, Be still, rest in Him! Remember to be patient and wait on the Lord!

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
– Galatians 6v9 NLT

We are to wait upon the Lord. Be patient! Do not grow weary! We will reap when the time is right as long as we are patient!

Hot tempers cause arguments, but patience brings peace.
– Proverbs 15v18 GNT/TEV

We are suppose to be slow to anger! When we are patient we provide peace not only to ourselves but also to those we come in contact! Remember, when you do not know people are watching you and how you react to things.

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
 – Ephesians 4v2 NLT

When we are kind always, patient, and accept each other where each person is at we are able to show the light of Christ through us.

The end of something is better than its beginning. Patience is better than pride.
  – Ecclesiastes 7v8 GNT/TEV

When it is finished we are wiser than when we started! We have grown and are able to pass on what we have learned to those around us! Patience to press on and keep pressing on is important. Pride gets in our way! May your journey today be full of patience to press on and wisdom to go to the steps ahead!

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
  – Colossians 3v12-13

It is no surprise to me patience with one another and forgiveness of each other go hand in hand. We are not suppose to complain about each other. We are required to forgive each other as we have been forgiven. We are to share the light of Christ in everything we do! Let us practice patience with one another and providing forgiveness in place of complaining!


By our measurement this is still a shorter devotional, but by their standards we ‘borrowed’ a lot of their content. (It took a lot of patience just to format this!) So I want to one more time direct you to Glorious Ministries, and this link to their page. This is part of a longer series on the Fruit of the Spirit you might want to check out.

 

February 27, 2020

Be Perfect As God is Perfect: So, Are You a Perfectionist?

by Clarke Dixon

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NRSV)

Be perfect, as God is perfect. So, are you a perfectionist, doing everything perfectly all the time? Do you keep the rules perfectly? Is that what Jesus means?

Perfectionism can affect the culture within a workplace, a family, a church family, an organization, or even within one’s own soul. Perfectionism can lead to a culture of excellence, with high standards coming from high expectations. However, perfectionism can also lead to a culture of judgement, a culture of fear, a culture of exclusion. We can be hard on others. We might be hardest on ourselves.

Is that what Jesus is calling us to? To be perfectionists? Let us look again at the words of Jesus in the context in which they are spoken.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)

In the immediate context, Jesus is telling us to be perfect in love. Nowhere in the Old Testament does it actually say “love your neighbour and hate your enemy,” (verse 43) but some Jewish groups were indeed saying that. In contrast, Jesus tells us to love our enemies (verse 44), and in so doing we will demonstrate a family resemblance to God (verse 45). After all, God provides graciously for all people without distinction (verse 45). The original hearers could reflect on the fact that Roman, or “enemy,” farmers would receive the same amount of sun and rain as the Jewish farmer. Since God loves the enemy, we all should. In the immediate context, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” is not so much “follow all the rules perfectly, keeping a perfect spirituality, while being a perfect person,” as “love like God does.” To quote the Common English Bible translation:

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” Matthew 5:48 (CEB)

In the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is leading us to become the kind of people who reflect the goodness of God, in love, and in everything else. We looked last week at how the scribes and the Pharisees were meticulous in studying and keeping the rules, yet were not the kind of people God was calling them to be. Jesus said that we must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees (5:20). In pointing to a better kind of righteousness, Jesus was pointing out that those who were merely focused on the rules were no different from anyone else, no matter how perfectly they kept them:

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:47-48 (NRSV)

As we pointed out last week, it is not about the rules, it is about you and me, the kind of people we are becoming in Christ, the kind of people who show a family resemblance with God in love, and in everything else.

In the even larger context of the whole Bible, Jesus is leading us toward a goal that God has brought within reach. God has a goal for us. What is that goal?

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. Romans 8:29 (NRSV emphasis added)

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him. Colossians 1:21-22 (NRSV emphasis added)

Being just like Jesus, made holy, blameless, and irreproachable before God; these are lofty goals which we could never attain on our own. God makes it possible.

In speaking of the goal of perfection, there are two big theological words that are worth learning: justification & sanctification. To explain them, let me use an illustration. Suppose your driving instructor is the devil himself. You learn terrible driving habits, and indeed you rack up so many speeding and dangerous driving tickets, you cannot afford to pay them. You are to have your day in court, the evidence is overwhelming, you expect to be in jail for the rest of your life. Judgement day comes. The judge sets the fine, and indeed you cannot pay it. You are headed to jail for sure. The judge gets off his judgement seat, comes down to your level, gets out his chequebook and pays the fine on your behalf. That is justification. You are free to drive. There may be an accuser in the gallery shouting about how guilty you are, how strong the evidence is, and why you deserve to be in jail. However, while you could never justify why you belong on the roads, the judge who just paid your fine can. So what is sanctification? You get back into your car to drive off, and there sitting beside you in the passenger seat is your new driving instructor, the Holy Spirit. You begin driving, you become a better driver. You are not instantly a good driver, but you are improving with every mile. That is sanctification.

Bible scholar Michael Wilkins talks of a “restful dissatisfaction.” We rest in the fact of God’s love and what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Christ to enable us to reach the goal of perfection. Yet, we are dissatisfied if we do not experience movement towards that goal in the here and now. We are not concerned with how our lingering imperfections might disqualify us from belonging to God as His children. We are concerned with how our lingering imperfections can have a negative impact on our children, or anyone in relationships with us.

Are you perfect? If that is a question on an entrance exam for eternal life, then the answer can be yes; God offers to make you perfect in Jesus Christ. If that is a question we ask the people in our lives based on their experience of us, then no, we can likely make some improvements.

Are you a perfectionist? If you are the kind of person who loves like God loves, then you will not be. You will walk with imperfect people along a journey, putting up with their imperfections along the way. You may even learn to put up with your own imperfections. If you are a perfectionist, you may be hard on other people. You may be hardest on yourself. Perfectionism is not a part of love. God walks alongside us, not as a perfectionist judging our imperfections, ready to ditch us when we stumble, but as a Heavenly Father Who helps us walk better on our way to a wonderful goal.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

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